August reads

I had the luxury of reading an entire book in a weekend this month – something that never happens usually. It was due to a combination of Bank Holiday at my in-law’s house, losing the knitting pattern I was working on and nothing on the TV. What bliss. Otherwise the month was as usual – catching reading time when I could around work and childcare.

Judy Blume – In the Unlikely Event

There was a moment when I started reading this that I was staying at my mother’s house. There’s really nothing like reading a Judy Blume book in the house where you grew up to make you realise you haven’t moved on in the past 25 years at all… Anyway, this is one of Judy’s books for adults and the one she said she always wanted to write. It brings to the page an incident from her childhood, where her town witnessed three plane crashes into the town over a matter of months. The book’s narrative is spread over a number of different points of view, though many of them from young teenage girls, and this does give the reader the sense that they’re reading a YA novel. It’s none the poorer for it, and Blume’s great talent has always been to bring the pain and confusion of being a teenage girl to life. It’s no different here. There is an impending sense of doom as the narrative changes to the passengers climbing on a plane for a journey but the impact of the crashes is somehow dulled. I felt this was lacking something, but I can’t tell you what it was. Nevertheless it was an enjoyable enough read, and I did feel reunited with an old friend.

Alexandra Heminsley – Running Like a Girl

Having just started running seriously again, I picked this up for a bit of inspiration. It’s a light hearted way of looking at running by someone who’s run quite a few marathons – and her journey to that point. She also covers the parts that other running narratives may not tell you – about sports bras, what to do if you need a poo while running and how to deal with crippling self doubt. It’s fun and inspirational, and I both laughed and cried while reading it.

Karl Over Knausgaard – A Death in the Family

This was my own suggestion to my reading group this month and I’d like to apologise to them for suggesting it. I wanted to see what the hype was about. I have no idea, having read it, what the hype is about. I was reading an article earlier in the month about the old argument that women’s stories, about love and families, for example the Blume above, are often seen as ‘women’s lit’ where men writing on the same subjects will be seen as ‘literature.’ There is nothing to demonstrate this better than this piece of self indulgent tosh. When it comes down to it, so many stories about white middle class straight boys are the same – all about drinking and how long it took them to get their hand up a girl’s jumper. This was the same with extra waffle, and a few things about his dad. Later, we discover he has cast his dad off for his alcoholism and then his father dies, having drunk himself to death. (Or did he? There’s a slight mystery about the circumstances of death but god forbid Knausgaard actually tells us this bit) Then Karl and his brother return to the fmaily home to clear it up as it’s become a pigsty, with rotting crap everywhere and their senile grandmother living in the detritus. This bit was actually quite interesting but it added nothing to the character development of the narrator, Karl Ove. This has been feted as literature that blurs the boundaries between fiction and autobiography but if I was going to fictionalise my life, I’d do something ot make it a bit more interesting. And insightful.

Katherine McMahon – The Girl in the Picture

This was the second in a series, apparently, although it didn’t matter if you hadn’t read the first, which I hadn’t. Set in 1926, the heroine is one of the few female lawyers in London and therefore, you’d think, quite feisty. The story concerns two cases she takes on, one about a bunch of toffs and the other a poor family torn apart by domestic abuse. In the background, the heroine’s persona life suffers as her grandmother dies, a close friend and relative moves to France and her boss proposes marriage just as her old lover returns to town. So a lot going on. It was all quite enjoyable, except… the heroine was dreadfully passive. For someone who had fought to get herself such a prominent groundbreaking job she just sat back and let people dictate to her a lot. It all got on my nerves rather.

Rowan Hisayo Buchanan – Harmless Like You

I couldn’t resist this debut novel having seen reviews on Twitter and I’m glad it was as deftly written as they suggested. The main story is of Yuki, a Japanese-American girl who decides not to return with her parents to Japan but stays in New York with friends. This is the late Sixties, and Yuki’s story is one of loneliness, isolation and, despite it not being overtly spelt out, racism. As a result, she spends far too long in an abusive relationship and struggles to be taken seriously as an artist. In the present day, we find Jay whose father has just died and left his house to Jay’s mother, Yuki, who left them when Jay was a baby. Jay must go and find her, now living in Berlin, and confront her. Jay was a self centred over grown child, in my view, though it could be that I just have issues with people who like cats as much as he did. But Yuki was far more interesting and despite needing to be shaken out of her torpor at times, the reader can at least see why she feels so stuck and so alone, so powerless, and feels for her. This is a really assured debut and I’m really quite jealous.

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